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This review is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

AERIAL PERSPECTIVE IN THE VALLEY OF VISION The Parting Light, Selected Writings of Samuel Palmer, edited by Mark Abley (Carcanet) £12.95

'They are visions of little dells, and nooks, and corners of Paradise; models of the exquisitest pitch of intense poetry.' Palmer's famous description of Blake's woodcuts for Thornton's Virgil, along with other writings less well known and difficult to come by, is quoted in context in Mark Abley's useful selection of Palmer's prose and verse. This is, in some ways, a sad book as we retrace the steps of Palmer's decline. The visionary years (the subtitle of Geoffrey Grigson's study of 1947) find him close to Blake: 'We must not begin with medium, but think always on excess.' 'We are not troubled with aerial perspective in the valley of vision.' Twenty years later, having, as Grigson puts it, 'hutched his spirit with the maids and scones, guarded by conifers and begonias', Palmer writes out in capital letters, 'GLOVER'S CHART OF AERIAL and TEXTURAL PERSPECTIVES' in one of his self-admonitory lists on how to attain perfection.

In his twenties he had already attained perfection with his own version of those corners of Paradise glimpsed in Blake, a body of work done mostly at Shoreham, Kent, and with the right kind of niggling. A convinced anti-naturalist, he had yet allowed himself to be persuaded by the painter John Linnell to look at Dürer and to draw from nature. And it is the tension between the visionary element and observation that, from about 1824 to 1834, resulted in a series of landscapes unique to English Romantic art. Linnell had to ...


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